The Future of Manufacturing ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Inc has an article on New Zealand based distributed manufacturing company Ponoko - The Future of Manufacturing.

It's easy to mistake the laser cutter that sits in the Ponoko headquarters for an ordinary office appliance.

The machine stands roughly 3 feet tall -- about the size and shape of a copy machine -- and is encased by that dun-colored plastic that is so familiar in the modern workplace.

"It's basically a big-ass printer," says Ponoko's CEO, David ten Have. "But it gives you an idea of where things are headed."

The laser cutter looks sort of like a printer because it is, in fact, a sort of printer. Instead of arranging ink on paper, the machine carves materials using a highly concentrated beam of light that is controlled by a computer. Lift the lid, insert a flat piece of wood or plastic, and in 15 minutes or so, you have the parts for a tabletop, a lampshade, or a toy car.

For ten Have -- a small, serious man of 34 with close-cropped dark hair that is flecked with silver -- this is only the beginning. One day, he believes, perhaps 50 years from now, machines like this will be inexpensive enough to be in every home and will be capable of making almost anything. Buying a physical product -- a cell phone, for instance -- will be as easy as buying an MP3 on iTunes. Products won't be shipped in containers; they will be downloaded as digital design files and then printed on our desks while we sip our morning coffee. Not only will this be exceedingly convenient, but ten Have says that it will reorder the global economy, green the planet, and unleash an unprecedented wave of creativity as regular people design their own stuff.

This is the wild, abstract future -- fodder, perhaps, for keynote speeches and think tank prognostications but not the sort of thing you would expect to quickly turn into a profitable business. Yet ten Have is building such a business. Ponoko is piecing together an infrastructure for this new kind of supply chain, beginning with the laser cutter that sits a few feet from his office in Wellington, New Zealand. It's July; the weather is sweltering in the United States, but in New Zealand, where the seasons are backward and buildings aren't equipped with insulation, you feel the winter wind indoors. Ten Have is standing over a space heater in a small, damp room attempting to explain what this machine has to do with the future of manufacturing. "We're trying to take Made in China and smear it across the globe," he says. "We're designing a factory for the 21st century."

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